By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 6, 2008 - A shortage of resources for the NATO effort in Afghanistan has necessitated a risk-management approach to operations there, the commander of the alliance's International Security Assistance Force said at a Pentagon news conference today. U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill said NATO nations have not filled the force specified in the alliance's combined joint statement of requirements.
"Even if NATO filled the requirement, it would still provide the minimal force," McNeill said.
Afghanistan is half again as big as Iraq and has a population of roughly 28 million. The general said that if NATO followed U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, "well over 400,000" international and indigenous troops and police would be needed for the effort.
More than 40,000 men and women from more than 35 nations serve in ISAF. An additional 13,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan are not under NATO command, but cooperate with the alliance forces. Afghan security forces number about 124,000.
McNeill said he accepts he will not get huge numbers of international troops. "The trick, then, is to manage the risk that is inherent in having an under-resourced international force and reaching the level of capacity at which the Afghan national security forces ought to be," he said.
The war in Afghanistan is a counterinsurgency effort, and in that environment, the best force to use is an indigenous force, the general told reporters. "And the best indigenous force is a police force," he said.
The Afghan National Army has made great progress in developing its capacity, but the Afghan National Police have not done as well, McNeill said. The police are as much as 18 months behind the army. This has galvanized interest among international partners to speed up police progress.
"By the end of the summer, we might see a lot of progress with the police, yet we will still be short of the force needed to wage this war," McNeill said.
ISAF is three maneuver battalions short and also is short of airlift resources and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, the general said. Some 3,200 U.S. Marines will deploy to Regional Command South beginning in March, but these forces "are not the cavalry," he said. The Marines will come for a finite time to reinforce success.
"We had success on the battlefield in the south in 2007; we're looking for more success in 2008," McNeill said.
ISAF has not remained static. Since McNeill took command a year ago, the international force has grown by more than 8,000 troops. He said he anticipates that more nations -- notably Poland and Britain -- will feed more troops into the fight. He also anticipates that other NATO countries may announce during a NATO defense ministers meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, later this week that they will send more troops to Afghanistan. "This is not huge numbers, but it will be most helpful," he said.
The Taliban insurgency has neither grown nor shrunk in size, McNeill said, but attacks have increased because NATO and Afghan forces are going more places in the country. The strategy in Afghanistan is for coalition forces to "get outside the wire, stay outside the wire, (and) advance upon the enemy," the general said. This, and not any Taliban resurgence, has created the increased level of violence.
"If the Taliban were resurgent, how come they have not accomplished the things they said they would do in 2006?" he asked.
The general said ISAF needs more police mentors.
"The Afghan police, like the Afghan National Army, perform considerably better when they have effective Western embeds," he said.
No one can deny that there has been progress in the security sector of the NATO mission, McNeill said, or that the 25 NATO provincial reconstruction teams have made significant progress in reconstructing the devastated country. "But I concede to you that our major effort in the line of governance probably has not produced as fast a rate of progress as many of us ... would like," he said.
Few Afghan leaders have the requisite experience and background to run the districts, provinces and country. Corruption remains a huge problem, but the Afghan bench is so thin that it is tough to replace corrupt officials. McNeill said governance progress requires patience and a lot of work to help develop Afghan political leaders.
"This is anathema to a professional soldier, but a covey of professional, capable bureaucrats would be very helpful in Afghanistan," he said.
McNeill said the American forces in Regional Command East are doing the best counterinsurgency job in the country. He said basic differences exist between RC East and RC South, the other regional command with significant fighting.
One difference is tour lengths. U.S. soldiers deploy to the region for 15 months. "What this does is that the American soldier and his leadership in the east develop a relationship with the terrain, the indigenous people and their leaders and with the enemies," McNeill said. "And they have sufficient time to exploit that relationship to their advantage."
Allies in the south generally serve shorter tours.
A second difference is that "the U.S. Congress well endows commanders in the U.S. sector with reconstruction money unencumbered so they can apply that money in a pure and comprehensive way," he said.